Archives Diary: A Tribute to Frans Jozef van Beeck, S.J.

Last month witnessed the sad passing of Frans Jozef van Beeck, SJ, an influential and beloved member of the Boston College community during his tenure here as professor of theology from 1968 until 1986.

Systematic Theology Lecture Notes (1981-1982), Box 1, Folder 4, Frans Jozef van Beeck Papers, BC2007-14, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Systematic Theology Lecture Notes (1981-1982), Box 1, Folder 4, Frans Jozef van Beeck Papers, BC.2007.014, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Father van Beeck hailed from the Netherlands, where he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1948 and became a priest in 1962.  There he also embarked on his graduate studies: first in philosophy, then a doctorate in comparative English & Italian literature from the University of Amsterdam and, lastly, he completed the S.T.L. degree in theology from the Canisianum Maastricht.  In 1968, he was called to Boston College where he taught systematic and liturgical theology.  Father van Beeck also distinguished himself as a violinist; and his theology was unique for its integration of the literary and aesthetic themes that were such a part of his life and intellectual pilgrimage.

While at Boston College, Father van Beeck developed into a noted theologian in a number of ways: his study of the foundational rhetorical dimension to Christology—the understanding of Jesus’ role in Christian faith and experience—in his book Christ Proclaimed garnered the praise of the great continental philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer.  Father van Beeck was also recognized for his sustained ecumenical engagements with prominent Protestant theology & Jewish thought and as someone whose theology animated his lived experience, liturgical leadership and pastoral ministry.  These achievements convinced Loyola University Chicago to offer him the John Cardinal Cody Chair in Theology, which led him away from Boston College when he took up that Chair in 1986.

Fr. van Beeck 1930 - 2011.

Fr. van Beeck 1930 – 2011.

Van Beeck is most especially known for his audacious, multi-volume work God Encountered: A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology, which remained unfinished at the time of his death at 6 volumes.  In God Encountered, Father van Beeck uniquely orchestrated Christian systematic theology around the foundational theme of worship, the encounter with God in the life of the community, as that is witnessed across the generations by the Great Tradition.

The John J. Burns Library houses a collection of personal and theological papers of Frans Jozef van Beeck, including early typescript drafts and emendations of God Encountered and manuscript lecture notes for his classes in systematic theology.   These present a wealth of resources for understanding the life and mind of this great theologian and the development of his theological positions and judgments.

Systematic Theology Lecture Notes (September 24th, 1981), Box 1, Folder 3, Frans Jozef van Beeck Papers, BC2007-14, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Systematic Theology Lecture Notes (September 24th, 1981), Box 1, Folder 3, Frans Jozef van Beeck Papers, BC.2007.014, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In the first image appearing in this blog post, you see a manuscript from his lecture notes to systematic theology from 1981-1982, in which Fr. van Beeck anticipates many of the crucial themes of his God Encountered as he attempts to explain the reciprocal interrelationship of sacrament—word—ethics or cult—creed—conduct as elemental contours of the Christian experience, with an emphasis on encountering God in the worship life of the community.

This last image in the blog post, dated 24 September 1981, comes from his lecture notes to systematic theology, in which Fr. van Beeck attempts to grapple with a problem in fundamental theology, another one of his sustained concerns: the question of whether the Christian understanding that we indeed do encounter God is more than just a projection of our desires.

  • James Daryn Henry, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Theology

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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2 Responses to Archives Diary: A Tribute to Frans Jozef van Beeck, S.J.

  1. Lucas van Beeck says:

    To the librarians of BC’s John J. Burns Library

    Dear Sirs,

    My name is Lucas van Beeck. I am the late Frans Jozef van Beeck S.J.’s nephew living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    When my uncle passed away in Nijmegen earlier this year, he left his relatives three notebooks (among other things). These contain his favourite English poems copied in his elegant longhand, going back to his time as a student and early lecturer in the 1950s and 60s prior to his arrival in the States.

    I have scrutinized all of the writing, and have not come across a single line of his own creation. How do I know this, you may wonder ? I am an English lecturer myself at Amsterdam’s International Business School at the University of Applied Sciences. (I spent an enjoyable year, incidentally, as a post-graduate student of English Literature at Boston College at my uncle’s invitation, back in 1984. John Mahoney was one of several professors whose lectures I attended.)

    Since the poems are not part of his oeuvre, I presume the library has no interest in the contents of these notebooks. Yet I deemed it polite to ask since you are looking after his theology notes and mss so well. In case there does exist a degree of–perhaps graphological–curiosity, please feel free to contact me.

    drs Lucas van Beeck, Amsterdam

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